As the old adage goes, “offense sells tickets, but defense wins games.”
And for the Ohio State men’s hockey team, that theme has rung true for much of the season.
As the Buckeyes got ready to travel to East Lansing, Mich., to take on the Michigan State Spartans, coach Steve Rohlik said the team needs to reflect on last Fridays’ matchup against the Michigan Wolverines.
“I think we have to look at it (the game) … there’s a lot of things we have to correct,” Rohlik said. “Especially defensively.”
The Buckeyes lost that game against the Wolverines, 10-6.
Rohlik emphasized the importance of protecting the crease.
“In our last three games, we’ve given up 16 goals within four feet of our net. That just can’t happen no matter who you have on the ice. You gotta defend that area,” Rohlik said.
With the Buckeyes giving up 10 goals against the Wolverines and eight goals in their series against Penn State the week before, Rohlik said it’s important to analyze where the defensive breakdowns occurred.
“When you give up that many goals, you do have to reflect and see where the breakdowns are,” he said. “And to me, it just comes back to, no matter where the play started — neutral ice, their end — ultimately they are scoring goals from an area where you have to defend and we have to be better.”
Rohlik also said it’ll be key for the team to work as a unit throughout the game.
“It’s combination … the d-zone may start out in their end on rushes, then maybe it’s our forward line and then it’s in your d-zone, you have what’s called ‘in the house,’ everyone talks about it, the paint or that area, you have to protect it,” Rohlik said. “We have to just be better as a team.”
As the Buckeyes move on in preparation for the weekend series against the Spartans, assistant captain Sam Jardine said OSU has to improve on its d-zone coverage in the crease to improve the overall defense.
“We have to keep the puck out of our net,” the junior defenseman said. “We have to take more pride in front of our net. We’re giving up too many goals.”
In the game against Michigan, the OSU defense struggled to support sophomore goalie Matt Tomkins, with most of the goals happening right in front of him. Jardine said the defense needs to work as a unit to protect its goalie.
“Obiviously things didn’t go our way against Michigan, we as a defense want to take responsibility for the goals,” Jardine said. “We just gotta be tough, win the one-on-one battles, stay with our man and just protect our crease.”
Tomkins added that the Buckeyes “haven’t been where we need to be as a team.”
“The other goalies and I have been working a lot,” Tomkins said. “(We are) focusing on just breaking down the goals against, we’ve also been working on finding pucks through traffic and positioning correctly.”
The Buckeyes have already faced the Spartans in OSU’s home Big Ten opener at the Schottenstein Center. OSU split the weekend against Michigan State, losing the first game, 2-1, before winning in the second game, 3-0.
In the series, Tomkins received his first collegiate shutout.
“We split with them last time they were here, so it’s exciting for us. This weekend is a good opportunity for us to climb back up in the standings and turn things around,” Tomkins said.
Rohlik said the second series against the Spartans is a chance for the Buckeyes to get back on track.
“This is another week where we can get better,” Rohlik said. “We are playing a very good defensive team.”
Rholik added that OSU has to have confidence going into its weekend matchups.
“We have to go up there with the mentality and the swagger that we are going to win hockey games and we know its not going to be easy,” he said.
Both Jardine and Tomkins discussed how keeping a positive attitude will help their team improve as they travel to MSU.
“It’s a fun to play in those types of environments … it’s fun to spend a whole weekend with the guys. It really just comes down to walking into the rink with the positive morale and enjoying where we are,” Tomkins said. “Being positive, upbeat, picking guys up when they aren’t having the best day, that’s how we are going to improve.”
Jardine also said staying positive and understanding the resilience of the Buckeyes is important in order to win this weekend.
“We just gotta put in the effort to improve certain parts of our game and outwork every team in the conference,” Jardine said. “The focus will be there this weekend. We haven’t quit and this team never will.”
Puck drop against the Spartans is set for 7:05 p.m. on Friday and 7 p.m. on Saturday.